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Synaptics CEO Francis Lee chats easily enough about the company’s touch-screen technology, its pimped-out concept phone the Onyx, and even about his interest in picking up a voice-recognition technology company. But when it comes to those rumors that Synaptics’ ClearPad touch screen technology is being used in the iPhone, Lee won’t even say whether or not he’s gotten a chance to play with the iPhone. iPhone what?
Well, if true, would you want to cross Steve Jobs? There are rumors about other touch screen companies, like German Balda, winning the initial iPhone deal too, so no one is quite sure about who is making the magic happen for iPhone.
Nevertheless, the Synaptics ClearPad technology is already confirmed in at least one device, the LG Prada, which the company showed us in its swanky demo room on Wednesday. ClearPad will likely land on other models expected this year as well.
For Santa Clara, Calif.-based Synaptics, ClearPad and other mobile touch technologies are a major push into the mobile device market. The company that trades on NASDAQ already dominates the touch-screen panel market for portable computers. Synaptics’ revenues are largely made up by the PC touch pad market, and handheld devices like phones and Mp3 players still make up a small part.
To sell phone makers on ClearPad and showcase its wow factor — like drag-n-drop user interface and cheek-capacity sensing for voice calls — the company spent between six to nine months and developed prototype phones, each costing between $5,000 to $7,000. These Onyx concept devices eventually helped LG’s team develop the Prada.
Lee says ClearPad is “just the tip of the iceberg,” for mobile and touch screen technology. Take the applications demonstrated on the Onyx and the technology of ClearPad and the possibilities are huge, says Lee.
If ClearPad and the company’s other mobile touch technologies hit it big with mobile device makers, Synpatics could see a surge in sales. Consumers are growing tired of poor mobile UIs and devices like the iPhone could spark interest in the touch-screen mobile market. On the iPhone in general Lee says: “The good thing about leaders like Apple, is that they are trendsetters. So the iPhone bodes well for a company like us. We don’t create the markets, the OEMs do. We are happy they are pushing this technology.”
Lee says the company is also looking into voice recognition technology companies, where an acquisition could be of interest. “Look at three human senses – touch, vision and sound – We’re working on vision and touch. Sound is another opportunity.”
I couldn’t resist and asked about the other two senses, smell and taste – Lee laughed and said he didn’t see those markets as being real big winners. But hey, he also is denying having set a hand on the iPhone.